Carla Zaccagnini, rubbing Shangai street in Sao Paulo into paper to exhibit it in Shanghai Biennale
Carla Zaccagnini rolling up Shangai street transfer
Carla Zaccagnini, "Shangai em São Paulo in Shanghai",
São Paulo City Pavilion
9th Shanghai Biennale
2 October-31 December, 2012
The Street Pavilion
by Adriano Pedrosa
The model of the foreign pavilion that houses a sample of cultural wonders of a distant nation into another’s international exposition harks back to the Biennale di Venezia, the mother of all biennials, and is a symptom of a string of 19th century desires—to select, represent, frame and display. If the model of the pavilion representing a microcosm of a nation is today regarded as anachronistic (Venice being the only biennial that maintains it, probably because of the inescapability of the Giardini’s architectural configuration), it still signals healthy curiosity and openness towards the foreign, to say the least. What is problematic in the Venetian model is that exhibitionary beast—representation itself. In the realm of nations, I quote the epigraph taken from the 24th Bienal de São Paulo (1998) catalogue dedicated to the segment of “National Representations”, a passage extracted from the text by the Canadian curator, Jon Tupper published in that volume: “It is impossible to represent a nation’s contemporary art activity through the work of one artist”. Carla Zaccagnini and myself worked together in that edition of the Bienal de São Paulo, much before the segment was abolished, in 2006, and it is thus with a grain of salt that we come to Shanghai. Nevertheless, looking back and taking away the weight of representation, the model of the remote curator bringing in contributions to a contemporary art exhibition on foreign grounds may still be productive. What is at stake with the proposed model of Shanghai, which shifts its attention from nations to city to be brought into the pavilions? The scaling down from nation to city may indicate a more limited, focused and plausible territory for the operations of that exhibitionary beast—representation.
Zaccagnini’s project for the Shanghai Biennale plays with these notions in a conceptual, poetic and cartographic way. Could Zaccagnini—who is born in Argentina, holds an Italian passport and lives in Brazil—be brought in to represent the city of São Paulo? The play with nationalities and origins is deliberate already in the choice of the artist. Yet São Paulo, with its more than 20 million inhabitants, the city wide scale remains unfathomable, and for this reason Zaccagnini has reached to a more limited, graspable territory—a single street in the city, measuring exactly 5 meters wide and 35 meters long. The street itself is again a play on nationalities—Rua Shangai. How is Shanghai, the Chinese city, represented in the Brazilian city of São Paulo? In her search through the map of the greater São Paulo, Zaccagnini has found four streets bearing different spellings of the name of this Chinese city (which in proper Portuguese reads Xangai), two of them in the municipality of São Paulo (Rua Shangai, in Penha district, São Paulo, zip code 03674-100, and Rua Changai, in Santo Amaro district, São Paulo zip code 04641-100) and two in the Greater São Paulo area (Rua Xangai, in Parque Novo Oratório, city of Santo André, zip code 09270-450, and Alameda Shangai, Tamboré district́, in Santana do Parnaíba, zip code 06543-040). In the Biennale’s catalog we reproduce 8 photographs made by the artist on these streets. It is the first Shangai street, in Penha district, that is selected by Zaccagnini to be reconnected with its faraway inspiration. What could be the most accurate way of representing such street, bringing Shangai to Shanghai? The medium elected for this was frottage, by which the artist, together with a group of collaborators, rubs the entire grounds of the small street with pencil on paper. Frottage itself is also used as an index, a document attesting the authenticity of a representation—credit cards and car’s license plates may be rubbed against paper to prove that they were duly exhibited.
Yet there is another play with Zaccagnini’s work, this one cartographic and evoked by her compatriot, the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, through a text that is worth quoting:
“… In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.”
(On Exactitude in Science, 1946)
Zacagnini’s frottage is a perfect Borgean map of Rua Shangai in São Paulo, a 1:1 scale of one of the city’s four Shanghai streets, its proper name naively misspelled. The marked sheets of paper have traveled halfway across the globe in order to encounter its exotic source of inspiration, and perhaps this way rescuing and attaining the pavilion’s long lost cause: representation.